I have a confession to make. I am not an expert designer. Wait, what? That wasn’t a surprise to you? Whew! That’s a relief. I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. Actually, designing board games is a just a hobby for me. Granted, it’s a hobby I enjoy greatly but still something in which I am constantly learning and growing. So this blog is as much about my designs and our hobby as it is about me learning what it means to be a designer.

I want to be transparent in the fact that I am a baby designer. I don’t want to sound like I have it all figured out. To that end, I will be sharing the things I learn as I grow. This post is the first in a (long) series that will detail out the simple things I am learning or struggling to learn that will hopefully make me a better designer.

In this first post I want to discuss prototyping and the need I have found to prototype much faster and messier than I currently do.

The first thing you need to know is that I really don’t have much time to work on my designs. I prioritize my family, my faith, and my income-earning job over designing games. This leaves me little time to do design work. So what might take someone with more design devoted time a week might take me a month or two.

My current process has been to latch onto an idea and do lots of development in my head and on paper. I write down my ideas and the game begins to form. I start doing math calculations to create the distribution of card and other stats. Once I start to put some structure to the game I write out the rules and start creating cards and boards and getting other components together. I go to the trouble of designing and laying things out for the cards and boards. I create full decks of cards and try to come up with icons for them. Then I print it all out and give it a try. But that try comes after much time with the game existing in my head.

What I have found is that I am trying to bring a complete game to the table for the first play test. I want to get as close as I can to a final printed copy as I can with my limited graphic design skills. This is a huge mistake and I’ll tell you why: this first game will fail in many ways or in every way.

I am setting myself up for failure. I will have sunk a good chunk of time into making this prototype and when something about it fails (it always does) I am discouraged. Not because it didn’t work. I expect this. I am discouraged because I then have to go back and rework the game which I feel means a long time until it hits the table again. And then I don’t work on it and the design languishes in Design Purgatory until that discouragement passes or until I am struck with a new idea for the game that sparks my action.

This is a bad cycle for a designer to be in. It slows things down and creates a very negative feedback loop.

The solution is to learn to prototype faster. Get the game on the table faster so that it can fail faster so that I don’t feel the discouragement of the time it will take to get it ready to test again. My focus should not be on getting a complete game to the table. It should be getting a simple prototype to the table, something I can create quickly. If I can get into a cycle of quicker prototyping I will be much less prone to the sunk-time discouragement I have been experiencing.

Ok, if I know this then how do I do it? What do I change? Here are my thoughts.

My focus should not be to create a complete game. My focus should be to get the core of my idea out on the table as quickly as possible. I don’t need the bells and whistles attached. I don’t need a complete deck of cards. I don’t need iconography. I don’t need art. I don’t need all the math figured out. I need to create as bare bones a prototype as I can create. This means a few hand written cards, a few pieces to move around, and a hand-drawn “board” made of paper. I just need enough to see if the core idea works and if it has any fun in it before I create anything else.

Creating a full game prototype with printed cards and boards with art can come later. My time is limited enough that it does not make sense for me to spend the time in that way.

Originally posted on BoardGameTheory.com